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Posts Tagged ‘liver toxicity’


3D Liver Model in a Droplet

Curator: Marzan Khan, BSc

Recently, a Harvard University Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, David Weitz and his team of researchers have successfully generated 3D models of liver tissue composed of two different kinds of liver cells, precisely compartmentalized in a core-shell droplet, using the microfluidics approach(1). Compared to alternative in-vitro methods, this approach comes with more advantages – it is cost-effective, can be quickly assembled and produces millions of organ droplets in a second(1). It is the first “organ in a droplet” technology that enables two disparate liver cells to physically co-exist and exchange biochemical information, thus making it a good mimic of the organ in vivo(1).

Liver tissue models are used by researchers to investigate the effect of drugs and other chemical compounds, either alone or in combination on liver toxicity(2). The liver is the primary center of drug metabolism, detoxification and removal and all of these processes need to be carried out systematically in order to maintain a homeostatic environment within the body(2) Any deviation from the steady state will shift the dynamic equilibrium of metabolism, leading to production of reactive oxygen species (ROS)(2). These are harmful because they will exert oxidative stress on the liver, and ultimately cause the organ to malfunction. Drug-induced liver toxicity is a critical problem – 10% of all cases of acute hepatitis, 5% of all hospital admissions, and 50% of all acute liver failures are caused by it(2).

Before any novel drug is launched into the market, it is tested in-vitro, in animal models, and then progresses onto human clinical trials(1). Weitz’s system can produce up to one-thousand organ droplets per second, each of which can be used in an experiment to test for drug toxicity(1). Clarifying further, he asserts that “Each droplet is like a mini experiment. Normally, if we are running experiments, say in test tubes, we need a milliliter of fluid per test tube. If we were to do a million experiments, we would need a thousand liters of fluid. That’s the equivalent of a thousand milk jugs! Here, each droplet is only a nanoliter, so we can do the whole experiment with one milliliter of fluid, meaning we can do a million more experiments with the same amount of fluid.”

Testing hepatocytes alone on a petri dish is a poor indicator of liver-specific functions because the liver is made up of multiple cells systematically arranged on an extracellular matrix and functionally interdependent(3). The primary hepatocytes, hepatic stellate cells, Kupffer cells, endothelial cells and fibroblasts form the basic components of a functioning liver(3). Weitz’s upgraded system contains hepatocytes (that make up the majority of liver cells and carry out most of the important functions) supported by a network of fibroblasts(3). His microfluidic chip is comprised of a network of constricted, circular channels spanning the micrometer range, the inner phase of which contains hepatocytes mixed in a cell culture solution(3). The surrounding middle phase accommodates fibroblasts in an alginate solution and the two liquids remain separated due to differences in their chemical properties as well as the physics of fluids travelling in narrow channels. Addition of a fluorinated carbon oil interferes with the two aqueous layers, forcing them to become individual monodisperse droplets(3). The hydrogel shell is completed when a 0.15% solution of acetic acid facilitates the cross-linking of alginate to form a gelatinous shell, locking the fibroblasts in place(3). Thus, the aqueous core of hepatocytes are encapsulated by fibroblasts confined to a strong hydrogel network, creating a core-shell hydrogel scaffold of 3D liver micro-tissue in a droplet(3). Using empirical analysis, scientists have shown that albumin secretion and urea synthesis (two important markers of liver function) were significantly higher in a co-culture of hepatocytes and fibroblasts 3D core-shell spheroids compared to a monotypic cell-culture of hepatocyte-only spheroids(3). These results validate the theory that homotypic as well as heterotypic communication between cells are important to achieve optimal organ function in vitro(3).

This system of creating micro-tissues in a droplet with enhanced properties is a step-forward in biomedical science(3). It can be used in experiments to test for a myriad of drugs, chemicals and cosmetics on different human tissue samples, as well as to understand the biological connectivity of contrasting cells(3).

diagram

Image source: DOI: 10.1039/c6lc00231

A simple demonstration of the microfluidic chip that combines different solutions to create a core-shell droplet consisting of two different kinds of liver cells.

References:

  1. National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. (2016, December 13). New device creates 3D livers in a droplet.ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 9, 2017 from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161213112337.htm
  2. Singh, D., Cho, W. C., & Upadhyay, G. (2015). Drug-Induced Liver Toxicity and Prevention by Herbal Antioxidants: An Overview.Frontiers in Physiology,6, 363. http://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2015.00363
  3. Qiushui Chen, Stefanie Utech, Dong Chen, Radivoje Prodanovic, Jin-Ming Lin and David A. Weitz; Controlled assembly of heterotypic cells in a core– shell scaffold: organ in a droplet; Lab Chip, 2016, 16, 1346; DOI: 10.1039/c6lc00231

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